The Key to Strengthening Office Security: Your Printer

When it comes to securing the office, many business owners and IT staff take precautions to protect their computers, servers, network and mobile devices, while overlooking an important potential target — their printers. A 2018 survey from IDC revealed that only 26 percent of respondents considered printer security to be as important as IT security. For thieves looking to get their hands on valuable or sensitive data, these “weak links” in IT security are therefore very attractive targets.

Business owners would be well advised to begin taking printer security more seriously and are looking to copier dealers to help identify and strengthen these security gaps. Cybercriminals that are able to breach a company’s defense can land a big payday by selling the information to competitors or on the black market for a hefty profit. On the other side, sustaining a data breach can carry an enormous cost for any organization. According to a 2018 study from IBM Security and Ponemon, the global average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million, up 6.4 percent from 2017. In addition to direct costs sustained by businesses, a data breach can also damage customer trust, hurt brand reputation and result in lost IP.

The connected printer

While older printers often lack basic security measures and cannot support the latest software updates, newer printers have opened up a much larger attack surface for thieves, particularly through the growth of IoT and cloud printing capabilities. As the IoT and cloud ecosystems continue to expand, these threats are expected to grow and become even more sophisticated.

The primary way that printers have been traditionally used to facilitate data breaches is through physical access to data. Whether intentional or by accident, it’s not unusual for employees who sift through their office’s printer output tray to find valuable information, such as confidential company secrets, emails, financial statements, medical information or employee/customer data. Unlike digital data such as email, printed information must be carefully discarded in order to avoid unauthorized access. This continues to be an issue for organizations like hospitals that both harbor large amounts of sensitive data, as well as unrestricted access to shared printers.

As multifunction printers became more widespread, their connectivity to the office increased. Today’s multifunction printers include a number of features designed to increase users’ efficiency and convenience, enabling users to print, copy, fax, email and scan from a single device — requiring access to phone and internet lines. Through the internet, printers are now connected to every other device on the network, and as a result, have become deeply embedded within an organization’s IT infrastructure, making them extremely attractive to would-be attackers.

Most recently, when cloud print services are used without built-in layers of security, there is the potential to put organizations at risk. The ability to print from any mobile device and the digital storage of documents have expanded the number of attack points exponentially. Remote portals also mean that an attacker need only access one login to have control over an entire fleet of printers. Now, businesses have the responsibility not only to secure their printers, but all the other places that information can be sent or stored, whether on an employee’s mobile phone or on a remote server.

The growth of print security risks

Once printers became connected to the organization’s IT network, they became susceptible to the same types of online threats that other IoT devices face, such as viruses, malware, and even Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS), when the resources of a system are flooded in an attempt to make it malfunction. Using these tools to compromise the machine, cybercriminals can gain unrestricted access to the company’s sensitive data that flows through the device. For a printer, this could potentially mean the data from any document sent to that machine. A survey from Booz Allen revealed that the most common printer security incidents for organizations were digitally intercepted print jobs (50%), loss of data from printer hard disks (48%), mailing of documents via multifunction printers to external sources (44%), and printers getting hacked to gain network access (18%).

Moreover, once a hacker has overtaken a printer, they can use that device as an entryway to gain access to the enterprise’s entire network, using it as a platform to launch additional attacks. Nor do these threats only exist in the hypothetical: at DEF CON 2018, researchers uncovered two critical vulnerabilities that enabled them to take complete control over the printer simply by sending the machine a malicious fax. Once compromised, the researchers showed how they could use the device as a way to penetrate the organization’s network even further.

While the proliferation of cloud services has opened new risks, it has also brought new security benefits. For example, partners can now use their cloud portals to update their printer fleets with the latest firmware and security updates, troubleshoot issues, and remotely view, manage and configure each device. When implemented correctly, cloud solutions can greatly enhance an organization’s protection. This is why partnering with manufacturers who have a well-thought-out approach to security can be a crucial part of helping customers build a holistic security strategy.

As the number of security threats continues to grow, business leaders will continue to seek partners who have a strong understanding of the security landscape and can keep their data protected. The good news is that the partners that demonstrate they are willing to prioritize these needs are poised to reap the benefits, including differentiated expertise in a competitive market, improved customer satisfaction and added revenue.

Finding the right solution

When faced with the increasing likelihood of suffering a data breach due to an insecure print device, many business owners do not know where to turn. Recently, we helped a global wealth management company managing over $1.8 trillion in assets with securing its print infrastructure and the information that flowed through its devices. From applications and client profiles to product brochures and customer portfolios, the company handled a wide variety of sensitive data, but the cost and complexity of managing and securing the existing print infrastructure caused headaches for IT administrators.

After reviewing their pain points, we ultimately decided that a secure cloud solution would be best to support their needs. Despite the risks present in a cloud solution, with security integrated into every layer, the solution would actually enhance the organization’s security by giving them much greater control over their information. In addition to offering insight and transparency into printing patterns, we were able to configure their devices to meet the unique security and compliance demands of a financial service organization, giving their employees added peace of mind when printing sensitive information. One security issue that caused repeated turmoil was documents being read by others at the printer, which compromised client confidentiality. Thanks to the new functionality of the cloud services, we were able to eliminate unclaimed documents sitting at printers by requiring user authentication at the printer, and help that organization save on printing costs in the process.

Building your print security posture

Thankfully, like the global wealth management company mentioned above, there are best practices and tools available that all organizations can take to secure their printers and avoid becoming victims of cyberattacks and data breaches. Assessing print devices, network management and document solutions for potential security weak points – and developing a security strategy to address them – are important steps to protecting your information, and ways in which partners can continue to demonstrate value to their customers.

Here are the 10 most common print security tips I recommend.

  1. Check for digitally signed firmware and software updates: Encryption and digitally signed firmware of files ensures that only firmware created by the vendor can be installed on enterprise devices. This is especially important as some cybercriminals can disguise their attacks to appear as printer updates.
  2. Limit access control to device functionality: Individual users and groups are required to use credentials to access the device and the authentication and authorization mechanisms can determine if a user has appropriate access to modify device settings or leverage functionality before they change them.
  3. Set up your security configuration: Custom configurations ensure that devices match security policies, conform to an organization’s unique needs and remediate automatically if a device is not abiding.
  4. Place physical locks on hard drives and drawers: To help combat physical security issues, protection such as locks blocking access to hard drives or paper trays that allow for an extra level of security for confidential data and print supplies.
  5. Wipe devices once out of service: When devices are removed from a secure location temporarily or permanently, perform an out of service wipe to remove all settings/data/information stored on the hard disk or memory of the device.
  6. Employ digital certificates: Certificate authority (CA) certificates allow a device to trust and validate the credentials of another system on the network first before allowing it to send documents or information.
  7. Take advantage of device audit capabilities: Audit capabilities like event-tracking features proactively track and identify potential risks and may be integrated with intrusion detection systems for real-time tracking.
  8. Consider contact and contactless card authentication: Administrators can grant access to device functions and apps with the same magnetic stripe or proximity cards that employees use for access to physical facilities.
  9. Use printers equipped with secure print solutions: These solutions enable users to securely print jobs from anywhere including desktop, tablet or smartphone, and release jobs for printing when they are ready and from any location.
  10. Employ confidential print tools: This solution holds your job on a specific printer or MFP until you release it with a PIN, preventing prying eyes from viewing documents in the output bin.

As criminals become smarter, we have as well, developing a new set of tools and strategies that are keeping them at bay. Trusted providers would be wise to ensure the devices they’re placing offer robust security capabilities, and partner with manufacturers who can help them provide secure print solutions for any office. By learning to embrace, rather than shy away from the print security conversation, you will find security will become another tool in your toolbox for winning new business and improving the customer experience.

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Eric McCann has been with Lexmark for almost 15 years and serves as manager of Lexmark’s software product marketing team.  He works with customers every day to help manage their security issues and concerns and can be reached at

Eric McCann

Eric McCann has been with Lexmark for almost 15 years and serves as manager of Lexmark’s software product marketing team.  He works with customers every day to help manage their security issues and concerns and can be reached at